JERUSALEM (Jan. 13)
The second highest-ranking official of the U.S. State Department met twice over the weekend with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, but apparently failed to persuade him not to retaliate in the event of an Iraqi attack.
Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger met with Shamir on Sunday night, after spending three hours with him the night before.
Eagleburger also met with Defense Minister Moshe Arens, who defended Israel’s right to respond militarily if it is attacked by Baghdad.
Eagleburger’s mission was initially kept under wraps. But Brent Scowcroft, President Bush’s national security adviser, confirmed in a television interview Sunday that the purpose was to persuade Israel to stay out of a possible war with Iraq.
But sentiment is running high among Cabinet ministers that Israel must retaliate if attacked.
“If Israel is attacked, we will reply,” Arens said Sunday, adding, “Israel will give the best possible account of itself if attacked.”
The defense minister spoke to reporters while visiting an air force base in northern Israel. He repeated his statement in English as if to make sure the Americans understand the position he was expressing.
Asked if the United States wanted Israel to refrain from hitting back if attacked, Arens referred the questioner to the Americans.
Shamir met with Eagleburger at the Prime Minister’s residence Saturday night with only two aides present. Yosef Ben-Aharon, director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, accompanied Shamir. Eagleburger was accompanied by the U.S. ambassador to Israel, William Brown.
PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE REJECTED
Shamir refused to discuss their talk with reporters until they “end with an agreed conclusion,” he said.
He said the nation could feel secure behind the Israel Defense Force, which is in a high state of preparedness.
The prime minister repeated that the government’s overriding consideration is “that the State of Israel not be harmed.”
Shamir told the Cabinet on Sunday that the defense of the nation was and would remain the responsibility of the government, but he imparted few details to the ministers.
An official communique said the Cabinet authorized a number of ministers to issue emergency regulations if required.
Likud ministers Ehud Olmert and Moshe Katsav told reporters after the meeting that Israel would respond if attacked. How, when and where will be for the government to decide, they said.
Katsav, who is transport minister, said the government decided against a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, because the United States indicated it would forestall an Iraqi attack on Israel.
But if the Iraqis do attack, it would mean the United States failed and Israel would respond, he said.